Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Art of the Comeback, Parts 2 & 3: "Every man dies, but not every man lives" / Change for the Better

*Hello, naughty monkeys. This is actually two posts, focusing on WHY a person -competitive or not- might focus on Obstacle Course Races like Spartan, WHY CrossFit, WHY - in a sedentary, obese culture particularly - millions of people are making that CHOICE, and WHY that is AWESOME NEWS for the world today.  

PART II: Obstacle Racing. "n=1"

Strangely enough, I got my start in obstacle racing in 1996 during my ill-fated attempt at Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, BUD/S Class 207. (**Please note that I did not graduate from SEAL training but I DID get to change my life COMPLETELY in a few months of the daily physical training, including the first few days of Hell Week, before continuing my navy career as a 'regular' sailor and college student out in the pineapple fields of O'ahu, Hawai'i). At the Naval Special Warfare Center on the sandy beach of Coronado, California you will find the "O Course". Some dreaded it. Personally, I immensely enjoyed the challenge of beating my PR on the O Course, and usually had one of the fastest times out of our 100+ person class. For a 1st-person helmet cam video of the entire O-course that we raced weekly, check out the video below:



It was not until twelve years later, after years spent focusing on Adventure Racing, Ironman and bike racing that I was able to enjoy "racing" an obstacle course again at the 2008 Sea  Otter Classic's "Adventure" Mountain Bike Duathlon in Monterey (also ill-fated, when I went off the front on the opening run, only to lead the race off-course and out of contention!)

After focusing on adventure racing, Ironman and bike racing from 2008-10, in 2011 I did two enormously fun but un-timed Tough Mudder events in Vail, Colorado and Lake Tahoe, California, and qualified for the "World's Toughest Mudder", a 24 hour non-stop event where you complete as many 10 mile obstacle course laps as possible, in a wetsuit, in freezing temperatures, in New Jersey. YES! Right up my alley!

The timing was not right in 2011 to train properly for a shot at winning, due to some work/life changes and moving from Boulder to Santa Barbara, so I decided to skip the WTM in 11. I pressed "pause" on the obstacle racing journey as other areas of my life took precedence.  I knew I would have to get to the WTM eventually, since I felt well-suited to compete given my love for obstacle racing,  years of experience in 24 hour non-stop Adventure Racing and trail running. Plus, this is my idea of "fun"!

For my re-entry to Obstacle Racing,  I picked a short race to get re-acquainted, and then a couple longer events that are more in my "wheelhouse". I will be racing in the Elite wave of the  Spartan Beast (13 mile) Race in Monterey, Spartan ULTRA Beast (26+ miles) in Killington Ski Resort, Vermont in September, and the World's Toughest Mudder (24hrs of nonstop laps around a 10 mile Obstacle course) in Englishtown, New Jersey in November.

The shortest races, like the 13 mile Spartan BEAST in Monterey will be an even greater challenge for me than the ultra-distance races, paradoxically, due to the faster pace. This will be excellent opportunity to get out of my "comfort zone" (double entendre/pun intended).  In Monterey I will be looking to get my feet wet and learn the Spartan Obstacles, and also get a baseline reality-check for my fitness before the Ultra Beast in Vermont.

My wife Alla is also racing the Monterey BEAST race in a later start wave. We are both pretty fired up about taking on the challenge.  The opportunity to travel to a fun event like this with Alla is a game-changer. She was not about to train for an Ironman, Adventure Race, Time Trial, Ultramarathon or 100 mile mountain bike race that I used to do pretty often, so this is a unique experience we can share and relate to together.

In all of these races I will be competing against some FAST short-distance athletes, but I have a huge advantage in the areas of nutrition/fueling and pacing these types of events. Is that enough to bridge the gap? Will my shoulder be ready? My wrist?  I plan on training as smart and hard as possible to make that happen. I will be competing with the best racers in the sport of Obstacle Racing, and they will all have 10x the specific OCR experience that I'll bring to the table. Those poor odds are what excites me the most.

Personally, the rebuilding process in 2013 is designed to prepare me for the 2014 Peak Death Race, which will be my "A" event for 2014.  If you have never heard of The Death Race, all you need to know is the URL for the race is www.youmaydie.com  ...not you "might" die, but you MAY die.   More on the Death Race next time.

As much as I'm laser-focused on my own fitness and performance, I'm also working on bringing "newbies" to the sport, who might find it life-changing, and on the other end of the spectrum more talent from the similar sports of mountain ultra running and adventure racing into the sport of OCR. Currently there are a handful of very fast trail runners competing in the sport (as their main focus) at the shorter distances, but I believe that with the prize money offered and great FUN these race offer, in less than 1-2  years this talent pool will become much deeper. More and more of my ultra-friends are following a CrossFit or Gym Jones training program for General Physical Preparedness/GPP and are seeing good results and fewer injuries. I predict the longer events will start to draw "experienced, unafraid newbies" such as CrossFitting Adventure Racers, triathletes and ultra runners looking for a new challenge. It's happening already.


"We Can Save This One!"


In August 2001, while racing the Discovery Channel Adventure Racing World Championships across Switzerland (St. Moritz to Zermatt, running, hiking, paddling, moutnaineering nonstop), Spartan Race co-founder Joe De Sena was racing on a friend's team, and our teams shared a couple pre-race meals and post-race beers together. Who would have thought that a little over a decade later he would have created a sport that now has more participants than marathons or triathlon in the USA?

Joe, the Spartan Race organization and I seem to be on the same page when it comes to the real "meaning" of a Spartan lifestyle and how it can change lives, and hence the world today.  There are far too many sedentary people wasting their lives away. Sometimes, everyone in their inner circles is doing the same. I believe these people are worth saving. It's not unlike pushing a beached whale back into the ocean, pardon the expression. Sometimes it's a kick in the ass, words of encouragement, or a reality-check that they are not just wasting their genetic potential but slowly dying. It boils down to accountability and a big decision. Anyone can make the decision to get off the couch and lose 20, 50, 100 or even  500lbs (just ask Chris Davis...video below). Joe and Spartan Race have created an 'arena', community, "traveling road show" where people all over the country can thoroughly challenge both their will and physical fitness.

I'm fired up about the explosive growth in the sport of obstacle racing - and CrossFit - and what it means to our society.  

People are walking into their CrossFit gym, or getting their race number marked on their FOREHEAD at a Spartan Race, because they have ACCEPTED A  CHALLENGE.  This contrasts greatly with the typical sedentary, comfortable way of life today where people avoid leaving their comfort zones and physical challenges of any kind.  You can even find these people at the gym! They can be found on the elliptical machine, set at level 2, reading a magazine article about "fitness" or doing biceps curls in the squat rack for Pete's sake. Yes, you can also find these people walking through a marathon, consuming 4,000 calories of pure sugar. When the doctor tells them they have Type 2 Diabetes, they all wonder how this is possible if they exercise "so much"...

TOO MANY people are sleep-walking through life today.

They are moving lumbering from sleeping to sitting in their cars, to sitting in a chair at their desk all day ('DESK-BOUND" as Kelly Starett would say), and back home where they sit again, eating processed "food"  that the nightmarish (Rx for Diabetes) FDA Food Pyramid prescribes while watching TV. THIS IS NOT LIVING. THIS IS DYING! 

Time for Change.

The fact that millions of people in America alone are excited about the benefits of eating a Paleo diet, FIRED UP ABOUT CHALLENGING THEMSELVES in CrossFit, Obstacle Races or other events is one of the best things happening in our country today. It's a culture shift, and a revolution.  If more people can get off their butts and get excited about exercising while eating real (Paleo for example) food that does not come in a BOX or have an ingredient list, we all benefit.  Healthier, stronger, happier humans.

People are fired up about obstacle racing because it's FUN, EXCITING, and A LITTLE BIT SCARY to most participants. Quite the opposite of a sedentary "WALL-E" type life.  Many of these same people are also graduating from their Globo-Gym 24 Hour Fitness "bicep curls, bench and machines" memberships and actually TRAINING in a CrossFit or similar "box". People just like you, your sister, your GRANDMOTHER are now ATHLETES IN TRAINING. They're training for *life*.  At the CrossFit Games last week, you saw a STADIUM filled with 20,000 spectators SCREAMING for WOMEN'S OLYMPIC LIFTING!  Do you know what that is?

This is a revolution.

 If you're reading this, I will call  you "Dude Number One" I bet you are  part of the Revolution, and you are already eating clean, Charging Life, training your ass off, balancing out your life and your bloodwork is awesome.  You and your children are probably healthier, stronger and happier than any previous generation. You're making the most of your God-given genetic potential, and your positive, healthy energy probably impacts every are of  your your life, and the lives of your peers, in a positive way. You make sacrifices and leave blood and sweat on the gym floor or trails to make this happen. It's not easy...and that's why it is so damn satisfying.  You've been "over the hump" for some time and you're living the lifestyle, the dream.

If you are not like "Dude Number One", realize you Can Be. There is nothing special about Dude Number One. They just made a choice. They decide to eat a nutrient-dense rathter than energy-dense diet, and they exercise as part of their lifestyle. Right now it is not too late, but why waste another day? 90% of the battle is what you choose to put in your mouth.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. The fitness part of the equation can come from intense workouts under 45 minutes total, several times per week. This is a decision you can make RIGHT NOW. This minute. Give yourself a chance to succeed. Start with a 30 day Challenge that focuses on your food choices.  Mark it on your calendar.

Maybe you don't even realize you are part of the majority of TV-watching, processed-food eating, sleep-walkers destined (currently)  for a life of Type 2 and Type 3 Diabetes (Alzheimer's Disease), cardiovascular disease, while the Fittest pay your bills and your children take care of you like an infant for the dreadful 10-20yrs at the end of your wasted life?  You're probably just doing what the people on TV tell you to do or your doctor told you (food pyramid, S.A.D/Standard American Diet). Ask him how much training he or she had on nutrition, and when that happened.

How is that working out for you? This is a choice. It sure is comfortable on that couch, with excuses listed on the door, isn't it? Trust me, there is nothing comfortable about slowly dying from diabetes complications while your family struggles to pay your bills.  Diabetes is NO JOKE. All too often it is the easy path of least resistance that leads you to the Hell that is diabetes, obesity and CV disease.

If you believe you cannot do it alone, you're probably right. That's OK You are making some radical changes for the better, and that isn't going to be easy. Join a CrossFit box, and you will have the accountability factor built-in where you cannot practice poor form, miss a single rep or second of any workout, and the intensity of your workout is going to be much greater than what you'll do at home with some "P90X" infomercial.  It should not be too hard to get a group from your gym to enter a Spartan Race or something similar in your area. Don't be surprised when there are 10,000 people at your event. They're not all "elite athletes" racing for the win..they're all just people, who made a choice. They are racing against who they were yesterday.

Maybe simply losing 30lbs, climbing a local mountain, a power lifting or olympic weightlifting meet or swimming across the local bay is your challenge of choice. It doesn't matter. Pick something physically just out of reach currently, use the internet or your CrossFit box to find like-minded people, and make it happen.

If you decide now and take action, you can do it. Tell your friends and  family your goal and timeline. That way you will have both positive and negative consequences for achievement of your goal, and support along the way. Write it down. Post it on the wall. Focus on taking it to completion. When you start to feel weak, like you just can't do it, like you're not capable, watch this video about Kyle Maynard and then get back to me.

Assess your current reality. 
Pick your Dream Goal.
With your coach, Develop & Follow a Fitness & Nutrition Plan. 
Check your bloodwork regularly (the proof is in the...blood!)
Believe & Visualize Success Constantly.
Every day, do the work.
Realize 90% of the battle is what you eat.
Constantly visualize success:  Big enough "WHY" = a "HOW".
Surround Yourself with Winners & Teachers. 
Don't give up. 
Live the Dream.
Pass it on to as many people as possible.


CrossFit Level 1, Goal-Setting, Endurance, Mobility

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Art of the Comeback, Part 1

Option A: Short, Succinct "Sprint" Version (highly recommended)

After shoulder surgery in January, I was incapacitated and lazy for a few months and became fat and out of shape. I was also planning my wedding to Alla which was in March. To light a fire under my ass I picked some big end-of-season races that offer legit competition. Goal is to go from broken and worst shape ever to healthy and BEST shape ever in the same calendar year. Impossible? No. Stoke Factor = All-Time High.

Option B: Long As Hell  "Endurance" Version (Long-winded inner monologue, stream-of-conscousness gooblygob, seriously not recommended)

The Art of the Comeback, Part 1: "I love it when a plan comes together"

On January 4th I went in for arthroscopic surgery to repair my jankity right shoulder (SLAP repair of my frayed/partially torn labrum with two anchors, Brazilian-wax "acromionectomy" (picture to the left) to remove bone spurs and impingement, synovectomy to remove Indiana Jones stalactites and stalagmites in the joint, etc. Biceps tendon at labrum was fine and rotator cuff had serious PTSD but was  totally intact thankfully).


Due to the "unfortunate" combination of the shape of my acromion, along with congenital laxity of my joints, I have been dealing with joint pain and injuries due to bone spurs and impingement for well over 20 years (swimming was "a grind" since high school triathlons, and overhead squat range of motion was nearly impossible with a 15 pound bar). To spice things up, along the way I managed to tear my shoulder labrums. Yep, both.  I fixed my left labrum when I lived in Boulder through physical therapy in early 2011 (after competing in two back to back 24 hour national championship Adventure Races without full use of my left arm (not recommended)). My right labrum was tweaked in 2010, but got better. After a particularly rowdy CrossFit workout involving sets of 25+ kipping pullups in 2012, I re-injured the shoulder. MEA CULPA!  It was not improving to full strength after almost a year of solo DIY rehab, so I opted for arthroscopic surgery. At 37, I feel that I have at least another 20 years to compete at a high level, so I had to focus on the Big Picture.

The recovery process to date has been on-track, with just a few minor setbacks (such as falling down the stairs and landing on a concrete step with my stitched-up shoulder a week after surgery. Yes, seriously.). I was fortunate to have received nutritional advice and a shopping list from my friend (and international sports nutrition thought-leader) Anthony AlmadaHe gave me a detailed list of supplements and foods to take before and after surgery that would speed recovery.

I am the type of person who MUST have a specific fitness goal as a "project" that I'm working on at all times.  I simply enjoy executing on my training plan as my fitness progresses. It's as much about the journey as the fitness goal or race itself. The grind is the glam. I view the race itself as just a celebration of the fitness you have banked over the weeks and months of hard training....a release, or D-Day if you will. It's really no different than rehearsing for a play and then a do-or-die, "one night only" performance.

The day after my surgery I was stuck on my couch in nauseating pain, unable to move much. Sleeping at night was very difficult, awkward and painful. After several months focused more on power lifting than endurance training, I was up to 216 pounds after my surgery, almost 40 pounds over my normal race weight. Sitting on that couch with my arm in a sling, I realized that by the time the sling would come off, my hard-earned strength and lean mass gains would as well. With a serious winter layer and without the ability to move pain-free, I started 2013 truly in the worst overall condition of my life.

In contrast to every January since the mid-90s, I was not sure how to plan my race season or even select a reasonable fitness goal. How long would it be before I could SQUAT or RUN without pain, let alone do a pullup or shoulder press?  Before even considering a new focus for racing, I had to focus on the obvious antecedent to any wild dreams of racing. I had to patiently rehabilitate my shoulder.  Simultaneously, I had to keep this talk to myself since I was planning for my wedding, which was in March. Obviously planning for the wedding was the top priority for my time and energy outside of work. It paid off, as we had a wonderful wedding free of any hitches or SNAFUs.

The physical therapy clinic I picked in Los Angeles was more like The Muppet Show than the truly world-class rehab experience I had with Dr. Jeremy Rodgers in Boulder (he fixed my OTHER shoulder non-surgically in late 2010 after a bike crash, and amazingly fast). Thirsty for knowledge, I spent more time devouring Dr. Kelly Starrett's MOBILITY WOD free videos on YouTube to further educate myself on optimal human shoulder mobility and rehab/prehab techniques. I have been a devout follower of K-Starr's for a few years, and am also a CrossFit Mobility certified coach, after attending his seminar at CrossFit Invictus in San Diego.  After my share of CrossFit injuries, I am definitely increasing the amount of time I invest in "maintenance" each day with the lacrosse ball and foam roller.

My orthopedic surgeon, physical therapists and other athletes told me to expect 6+ months until I could achieve 90% normal range of motion, 7 months to resume strength training, and "18 months" to a full recovery. Yikes. Others warned that I would never be the same. They would point to their own experience with the same procedure. The acromionectomy alone was done to allow me the unobstructed range of motion to swim and surf without pain, and even do proper overhead squats for the first time. I wouldn't accept anything else, regardless of the nay-sayers.

My hubris and impatience has often lead to setbacks that cost me dearly when recovering from injuries. At 37, I cannot make that mistake again, but I also require a goal that would be currently out of reach to scare and motivate me. In order to define my terms and begin my next "human experiment", I needed a goal, or a primary endpoint before I could begin this controlled experiment of one.

Starting 2013 in my WORST shape, at rock bottom, made my 2013 goal as simple as it was audacious: FINISH 2013 in the BEST condition of my life. I just needed to define "Best" and build a training plan so I could indeed define my terms and write down my "business plan".  My idea was to pick just a few late-season races as fitness tests. Because I have raced extensively and often victoriously in the hardest 24 hour to 72+ hour events in the world (usually with my DART-nuun teammates), I was kind of stumped while looking for a solo event that would be as hard or harder, but different.

What would it be? Adventure Racing? Another Ironman? Another ultramarathon run or mountain bike race? AR has always been my passion since I started competing in the sport in 1997, and it seems like a no-brainer, but my DART-nuun teammates had already selected their North American and international expedition race teams for the season. That left only domestic 24-72 hour races I could race with another team, but most Adventure Races in the USA today unfortunately have become "get whatever checkpoints you want" orienteering meets, an unfortunate watering-down and bastardization of my beloved sport that I just would rather not support.

I'm not into half-assing my training once I sign up for a race. It is a full commitment and it has got to be full-ass or nothing. I needed something a bit gnarlier that would challenge not just my endurance, but my overall fitness and rehab timeline. Something that would give me the feeling I had almost 17 yrs ago when I was training for my first overnight "24 hour" adventure race.

We have all seen a hundred movies about comebacks. We know the formula for a comeback, the narrative arc. In cinema, the comeback and ultimate victory is virtually guaranteed at the outset, regardless of the impossible mission. In real life, you cannot simply "press play" and let things happen. You have to make shit happen. You have to take personal accountability from the time you set your goal through completion if you are to have any hope for success. I believe the way you define your terms and visualize success at the beginning of your journey has a profound impact on the outcome. A goal, or desired outcome without a plan is just a wish.

One critical aspect of any grand plan was the involvement of my wife Alla. If I couldn't include her in my training it was not worth it. Period. Spending time with Alla is my top priority. She is not an obsessed competitive athlete, but does enjoy yoga, some strength workouts at the gym or beach, and getting out on the trails to run, hike, climb or mountain bike for a few hours.

Whatever I picked, it had to absolutely mandate MAXIMUM total-body fitness, serious shoulder strength and mobility, full-body readiness. It had to absolutely punish any weakness or chink in my armor. It had to be something a little bit scary. Something just out of reach, a race against serious competition where the odds are stacked heavily against "the current me", but maybe in favor of the me I believe I could become....

 It would have to be a a little bit crazy...like 24 hours of running in freezing rain in a wetsuit, or maybe thousands of burpees, unplanned 3 mile swims, extreme landscaping or chopping wood.

When you're accustomed to racing nonstop for 24-72 hours, in awful conditions, and comfortable outside of your comfort zone, how do you "get outside your comfort zone"?



*(If you are still reading,  sorry your flight is delayed and you're forced to sit in that uncomfortable position next to the 'charging tree' at the airport for so many hours.)